IWD 2024: Interview with Jemma Picco

By on 6 March, 2024
Jemma Picco

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day 2024 this week by showcasing outstanding women who are helping to shape Australia’s geospatial sector.

In this interview we speak with Cairns-based Jemma Picco, Principal Surveyor for Survey Projects in the Queensland Government Department of Resources.

Spatial Source: Please tell us about your current role and responsibilities.

Jemma Picco: My expertise is in the field of land surveying and land tenure resolution. I am a Registered Cadastral Surveyor with the Surveyor’s Board of Queensland (this is a licensed surveyor in other states). In my role, I lead surveying projects for the Department of Resources. Our team of surveyors provides support to many areas of our Department, including the Land Services and the Native Title and Indigenous Land Operations teams.

Our team also provides the surveying support to the Cape York Tenure Resolution team, which returns ownership and management of identified lands on Cape York Peninsula to local Aboriginal Traditional Owners, while ensuring the protection of Cape York Peninsula’s iconic natural areas and significant natural and cultural values. Our work is in some most beautiful places in Queensland, in Australia and in the world!

On a personal level I have family responsibilities. Flexible work arrangements and the ability to work part-time has been something that has sustained me in juggling my work and caring responsibilities as a wife and as a mother of three children. I have always been very active in industry, and this juggle was even recognised with an industry special achievement award for my contribution to the industry and the community while recognising my role as a primary carer, which I was honoured to receive. I love being actively part of my children’s lives and watching them grow, develop, learn, and taking them on adventures.

SS: What do you enjoy most about your job?

JP: The people. I work with some of the most amazing, passionate and supportive people. The Department’s surveying services team has around 50 staff — a mix of cadastral surveyors, registered surveyors, surveying graduates, surveying associates, policy officers and surveying support staff, spread throughout the state in 11 offices from Cairns in the north to Robina on the Gold Coast in the south. I understand that it’s the people that make all the difference in a workplace, and this enthusiasm has meant my part of my role has evolved into the lead for surveying recruitment for the Department.

Surveying Services works closely with many other departmental teams, including the Spatial Information team, and most people in the Department are wonderful to work with. Working in a regional office is also something I have really enjoyed, where you work with people from all teams and get a snapshot of how we are all working towards departmental goals and making a difference to the lives of Queenslanders.

Jemma Picco (centre) with some of her colleagues in the Queensland Department of Resources.

SS: Are there any personal qualities or attributes that are helpful to have in this field?

JP: When I first decided to enrol in surveying at university (quite a few years ago now!), I had no idea there were very few women in the industry. Apart from needing to believe in myself and taking comfort and strength from those who believed in me, I can only assume that it is many of my personal qualities that have been helpful as I have navigated my career in surveying. I believe these include:

  • Open communication — being a good conversationalist and having the ability to speak up;
  • My desire to understand and need know why — I am not afraid to ask questions and challenge things I don’t understand;
  • My ability to organise, together with my flexibility to arrange and re-arrange as needed;
  • Being proactive and taking action, whether that is at work, in industry, at school or with the various extracurricular activities my children are involved in;
  • My ability to recognise potential in others and finding ways to challenge them, just as I enjoy being challenged; and
  • Embracing diversity — I enjoy meeting new people and working with all people.

SS: As a woman, have you had any struggles during your career? Conversely, have you had support?

JP: Being a younger female in an ageing male profession, I have had to break some people’s unconscious bias of what a surveyor is. I have taken opportunities, worked with people who have supported and believed in me, fought for what I believed in, and I have learnt to believe in myself. I have found that proving yourself in a male dominated profession is both real and perceived, by others and by myself.

Everyone has struggles in their career and some have been easier to deal with than others. I don’t find dwelling on them is particularly useful, so I choose not to elaborate here, but I do try to eliminate or reduce the struggles for others so that hopefully their journey can be smoother than where mine may have had potholes. I have had lots of support over the years, and I am so grateful for all the guidance, encouragement, training, and patience I have received from so many people. Hopefully I can be that person for others.

SS: We need more women in the geospatial sector. Do you have any ideas?

JP: The geospatial sector needs more people! There have been several studies over the years highlighting the increased demand and diminishing workforce, particularly in surveying where there is an aging workforce of qualified staff. In Queensland, approximately 1,400 new surveyors and spatial professionals will be required in the next decade to meet the forecast demand. This apparently represents a 35% increase in the current size of the work force. With only around 3% of registrants with the Surveyors Board of Queensland being female, there is a huge opportunity to engage with more women working in surveying to progress their qualifications, as well as encouraging more women to join surveying to help address the skills shortage.

Ensuring there is a supportive, inclusive culture in surveying for everyone, not just women, is important. The research shows that this results in increased productivity and profitability, so a more inclusive workplace is not only good for an individual but also an organisation! Embracing diversity is also something we can all be part of and contribute to.

To support women in industry, the creation of a network for women to create a supportive environment where experiences can be shared is invaluable. I am honoured to be leading the initiative of formalising a Queensland Women in Surveying network. I am looking forward to meeting more women in industry and being able to connect, share experiences and continue to support one another. We have our first face-to-face event this week as part of International Women’s Day celebrations.

SS: What would you say to young women who are considering a career in geospatial?

Go for it!

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